Smartwatches have been slowly getting better at offering true value as both extensions of smartphones and activity trackers with fitness in mind.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers aren’t necessarily the same thing, though they may share similar features. Fitness trackers are meant to be functional devices focused on tracking daily activity, whereas smartwatches are designed to be more multifaceted, with support for apps and, in some cases, wireless network connectivity.
There is an aesthetic and functional distinction between one smartwatch to another, as in how a running watch might be different from an all-encompassing model. Here are some of the best smartwatches available now.
Apple released the Watch Series 6 smartwatch in the fall, which is a modest upgrade from the previous model. This is the first model to run on Apple’s S6 processor, giving it a decent speed boost. The previous Watch Series 5 introduced an always-on display, which works nicely with this version because it’s 2.5 times brighter. The altimeter is also always-on, so you can track your elevation in real-time.
Apple also added an SpO2 sensor to measure blood oxygen on demand. This is the first of the company’s smartwatches to include it, bringing in yet another health tracking feature to the mix. Not much changed in terms of looks, as this version retains many of the same design principles. There are still aluminum and stainless steel models to choose from as well.
Some of the new features come courtesy of WatchOS 7, like sleep detection, a hand-washing tracker and some new fitness routines. Those aren’t specific to the Series 6, but you should expect to have them when you use this watch.
With models that support cellular LTE connectivity, you can make calls, send/receive messages and play music straight from the watch. Non-cellular models can do a lot of things too, save for phone calls, as there is no eSIM functionality. Battery life is basically the same as the Series 5, except you can charge this one much faster. Just remember that the Apple Watch Series 6 will only work with iOS devices. If you are looking for something more affordable, you can always try the Apple Watch SE.
The Fitbit Sense takes a slightly different turn for the company because of what it includes. While it looks similar to the Versa line of smartwatches, the feature set is different. The Sense has a nice, tiny bit larger AMOLED display—and introduces a new latch mechanism for straps and bands that’s a lot easier to manage. The Versa 3 also uses the same mechanism. It’s just unfortunate you can’t use previous Versa straps with the Sense.
The key to this watch is all the sensory technology inside. You get the PurePulse 2.0 sensor for heart rate variability (HRV), electrodermal activity (EDA) and electrocardiogram (ECG), though the latter is still pending approval from Health Canada. There’s even a skin temperature sensor that works during sleep. The SpO2 sensor also works the same way, checking blood oxygen levels while you sleep.
In addition to the onboard microphone for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, there’s also a speaker to hear them speak. That speaker also works for phone calls. As long as you’re in range of your paired phone, you can talk to callers directly from the watch. With Android phones, you can use the microphone to verbally respond to messages.
Fitbit also added built-in GPS for better tracking, especially for outdoor activity. Exercise tracking is otherwise much the same, though heart rate tracking is more precise this time around. Fitbit Premium is the subscription-based service you can pay for to get guided programs to a variety of different workouts or goals.
App support, generally speaking, still isn’t extensive, but you might find a good gem when doing a search. There are plenty of options to customize your watch face and menu layout. For music, you get the same kind of integration applies for Spotify and Deezer, though the latter of those two actually allows you to store music for offline listening.
Fitbit rates battery life at five days, though it really depends on what you’re doing with it. Mixed usage will drive it lower for sure. The smartwatch does work with both iOS and Android phones.
Samsung Galaxy Watch3
Samsung kind of returned to its roots with the Galaxy Watch3, primarily with the physical rotating bezel that made its watches so unique. Slightly slimmer and lighter than previous regular models, it comes with a vibrant AMOLED display to add to the look. The leather band that also comes with it adds a nice touch to what is a good-looking watch by any measure.
While it’s not one of Samsung’s Active models, it features similar waterproofing, so durability isn’t really a problem. There’s a fair bit of tech inside to use, starting with the excellent heart rate monitor, as well as the SpO2 sensor for blood oxygen levels. There is an ECG as well, but it’s not live yet because Health Canada has yet to approve it.
The watch can track up to 40 exercises—seven of them automatically—and with built-in GPS, distance and routes are easy to track, too. Sleep tracking also gets better with useful information displayed on the Galaxy Wearable app.
Samsung doubled the watch’s internal storage to 8GB (5GB of which are free to use), which is great for adding apps and watch faces, but also for music. For example, save Spotify playlists for offline listening directly from the watch by pairing it with headphones. You can also take make and take calls directly from the watch, including the ability to respond to messages.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2
The Galaxy Watch Active2 is Samsung’s more activity-focused smartwatch, with a smaller frame to go with it. One major difference with the regular Galaxy Watches is the touch-sensitive bezel that tries to emulate the physical rotating bezel.
The Watch Active2 comes in three colours and two sizes. There are 40mm and 44mm sizes to choose from, though the 40mm is more common. You can find it in aluminum in black, gold/pink and silver. A stainless steel version also comes in gold/pink.
There’s plenty to work and play with, including a heart rate sensor, GPS, altimeter, waterproof body and up to 2.5GB of free internal storage. That waterproofing also includes saltwater, letting you reach depths down to 50 metres. Just rinse it off with clear water after you get out.
It runs on Tizen, Samsung’s own operating system, which has its own app store and countless watch faces to customize how it looks. The Watch Active2 tracks dozens of exercises, about six of which are automatic. As you might expect, you can track steps, calories, sleep and more while wearing it when not working out too.
The watch works with Samsung and Android phones running version 5.0 or later with at least 1.5GB of RAM. It can work with iPhones running at least iOS 9.0, though I would recommend you don’t get this watch as an iPhone user.
Garmin Vivoactive 4
Garmin has always leaned toward building smartwatches that cater to the sportier crowd. The Vivoactive 4 is no exception, though there is a bit of a lifestyle focus here. Unlike Garmin’s Forerunner watches, which are packed with all sorts of features, this one straddles between being a sporty smartwatch and all-purpose activity tracker.
There is a built-in heart rate monitor and GPS, with over 20 sports preloaded onto it. It tracks activity and metrics, like distance, pace and time, and pairs with the Garmin Connect app to take things further. Runners can create their own routes or exercise routine that could include a running component. Garmin also lets you do it inside on a treadmill, using the phone’s data connection to measure distance when not outside.
You don’t have to customize it all. There are workouts to download and other users to glean insight and inspiration from to keep you motivated. It’s also waterproof, so take it swimming when the mood strikes. Garmin also includes an SpO2 sensor for blood oxygen levels.
This watch comes in 45mm size, whereas the Vivactive 4S is the equivalent at a 40mm size. Garmin rates battery life at up to eight days in most passive use cases, and that cuts down to about 15 hours when GPS is on.
More than the group above, there’s a wide range of smartwatch solutions available today.